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High-def happenings

Blu-ray

I’ve got a whole parade of high definition updates for today. First of all, after being postponed from its original June 5th release date, High-Def Digest has revealed that Cars will now see the light of day on Blu-ray in North American territories on November 6th. The reason for the delay, it would seem, is “additional involvement from Pixar”, which comes in the form of two BD-exclusive bonus features: a new deleted scene and a BD-Java “Car Finder”. Woo. How about some worthwhile bonus materials, Disney - like, I don’t know, a visual commentary? Cars is currently the only Pixar film not to have been released on DVD as a fully-loaded 2-disc special edition, and I was somewhat hopeful that the Blu-ray release would feature all the usual bells and whistles… but it would seem not. Oh, well - even so, it’s still a must-have.

Meanwhile, New Line would appear to have tired of waiting for Warner’s TotalHD dual format discs to appear, and have decided to get cracking with HD releases of their films, beginning with Hairspray (the remake, not the John Waters original), coming to both HD DVD and Blu-ray at some point in the fourth quarter of 2007. Hairspray is currently the only title to have been announced, but I’m crossing my fingers for some of the rumoured titles before too long, especially Blade, Final Destination and Se7en… oh, and Peter Jackson’s version of The Lord of the Rings, provided it’s the Extended Editions and not the theatrical cuts. (I’d still rather have Ralph Bakshi’s version, though.)

Oh, and, after many delays, Entertainment In Video have finally confirmed their intention to release on Blu-ray in the UK, with a roster of eight titles to come out on August 13th: Gangs of New York, The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain, The Departed, The Crow and Lucky Number Slevin. Several of these titles are already available on HD DVD (or HD DVD and Blu-ray) in the US, and the only title to take my fancy from that list is Gangs of New York. Unfortunately, EIV have decided to punish people like myself who own Region A Blu-ray players by encoding these discs for Region B only, so it looks like I’ll have to wait for Disney to release it in North American territories, or for the proposed HD DVD releases to materialise in Spain or France. Way to lose business, EIV.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 7:57 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Lost in translation

Blu-ray

This morning, I forced myself to sit down and watch Paprika… with an emphasis on forced, because I really did find it a chore to sit through. I have nothing against nonsensical films that operate in the world of dream logic - Mulholland Drive and Inferno being two of my absolute all-time favourites - but, if the director doesn’t know what he or she is doing, or loses his or her sense of perspective, it’s easy to lose track of what counts. With Paprika, I can only assume that, as with Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (another dream logic film I saw recently and hated), everything made sense to writer/director Satoshi Kon in his head, but he was unable to translate this on to the screen in a way that resonated… with me at any rate. I never felt as if I was actually experiencing a dream, just viewing one nonsensical scene after another.

I'm not bland, I'm just not good at expressing my emotions.

“I’m not bland, I’m just not good at expressing my emotions.”

It doesn’t help that, unlike the other Satoshi Kon film I’ve seen, the excellent Tokyo Godfathers, the visual style is that bland, stilted, lifeless look that I (rightly or wrongly) associate with anime. Rather than moving their whole faces when they speak, characters’ mouths just open and close, and the voices (in the original Japanese - the English dub is unsurprisingly cringe-worthy) certainly don’t add any more life to these wooden personalities. There is some nice colour work, and a couple of interesting visual images, but most of the latter are to be found in the opening credits - really not a good sign. The designs are mostly bland and generic, and I find myself wondering how the same director could produce such inventive visuals in Tokyo Godfathers, working with a much more reality-based storyline, and yet give this high fantasy such an uninspired look.

I do intend to seek out Satoshi Kon’s other work - Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress - but I sincerely hope my enjoyment of Tokyo Godfathers wasn’t just a fluke.

4/10.

 
Posted: Monday, July 16, 2007 at 10:01 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

Asterix and the HD Vikings

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

A while back, I reported that the most recent Asterix film, Asterix and the Vikings was due to be released on HD DVD at some point in the first quarter of 2007 by DeAPlaneta in Spain. As you can probably gather, it has yet to materialise, but the good news is that, according to FilmTalk, it will be coming out in France on October 3rd. Of course, I’ll definitely be picking up a copy, and the fact that the French standard definition DVD included English audio and subtitles also bodes well for the HD DVD. I just hope it has a better transfer than Paprika, the only full-length 2D animated feature I currently own in HD.

 
Posted: Monday, July 16, 2007 at 9:56 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Finally, some Blu-ray titles worth owning

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

So far, a few decent titles have been released as Blu-ray exclusives, but hardly any of them have been must-haves. For me, Casino Royale, The Descent, The Devil’s Rejects and Kingdom of Heaven are the only titles that would fall into that category, with only The Descent standing out as a near-classic. All that will change in October, however, when Starz Home Entertainment/Anchor Bay will release their first slate of titles. DavisDVD has the scoop on the cover art, rough specs and release dates of their initial line-up:

October 2nd, 2007: Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Evil Dead II and Day of the Dead
October 16th, 2007: Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 1 (Cigarette Burns, Dreams in the Witch-house, The Fair Haired Child), Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 2 (Jenifer, Sick Girl, Deer Woman)
November 6th, 2007: Beowulf & Grendel
November 13th, 2007: Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 3 (Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, Dance of the Dead, Pick Me Up)
December 11th, 2007: Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 4 (Imprint, Homecoming, Haeckel’s Tale, Chocolate)

I’ll definitely be picking up all of the October 2nd releases, and am currently undecided on Masters of Horror. I’ll probably get Volume 2 for Jenifer, so I can own some HD Argento, even if it’s bottom drawer HD Argento, but I’m not convinced I can see myself splurging on the other volumes. I’ll probably wait to see what my finances are like at the time, or perhaps look into the prospect of a review copy or two. Beowulf & Grendel is the odd one out in this otherwise horror-themed line-up, and I can’t see myself rushing out to pick it up… although it does star Sarah Polley, who can make just about anything watchable (why else d’you think I’m buying the Dawn of the Dead remake on HD DVD?). One thing’s for sure, Anchor Bay are to be commended for having the guts to step into the murky waters of high definition, and I sincerely hope the sales of these releases persuade them to continue releasing titles on Blu-ray. (How ‘bout those Tenebre and Phenomena special editions - pleeeeease?)

Specs for the first four releases are as follows, by the way: 1080p transfers (duh), PCM 5.1 audio, and all of the extras from the standard definition releases. Each disc will carry an RRP of $29.97. No word on the video codec - I’m just hoping it’s not MPEG2, which their HD distributor, MGM, favours. Oh, and I’m assuming Dawn of the Dead is just the standard theatrical cut.

 
Posted: Monday, July 16, 2007 at 12:36 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD
 

Cease your meddling!

The Matrix: the original 1999 version

Above: the original 1999 version; below: the re-graded 2004 version

The Matrix: the re-graded 2004 version

George Lucas isn’t the only filmmaker to indulge in revisionism. That’s right, the Wachowski brothers are at is as well. No, the alterations that have been made to The Matrix aren’t quite on the same level as the “Greedo shoots first” debacle - no footage has actually been reshot, and the special effects are unchanged - but they’re significant nonetheless. When the film was re-released on DVD in 2004, the entire film was digitally graded to bring its look into line with the two rubbish sequels, and, now that I have the ability to take screen captures of HD DVDs, I can show you just how extreme the difference is.

The Matrix: the original 1999 version

Above: the original 1999 version; below: the re-graded 2004 version

The Matrix: the re-graded 2004 version

I’m curious as to how people feel about this. On the one hand, I do think that the re-graded version is aesthetically preferable. Creating a digital intermediate allows filmmakers much more control over the final look of their movie than traditional lab work, and we can therefore presumably assume that the look of the new version of The Matrix is closer to representing what the Wachowskis originally intended than what was initially released. On the other hand, it’s hard not to see this as being a “because we can” situation. The central concept - that the Matrix had a green tint, whereas the “real world” had a blue tint - was conveyed subtly in the original version, but, in the re-graded version, has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The shadow detail is also seriously hampered by the manner in which the contrast has been pumped up.

The Matrix: the original 1999 version

Above: the original 1999 version; below: the re-graded 2004 version

The Matrix: the re-graded 2004 version

Edge enhancement

Oh, and the HD DVD of The Matrix is indeed edge enhanced. It’s not as bad as on some titles - it’s no Crank or An American Werewolf in London, for example - but it’s there all right. I noticed it within less than a minute of the film starting, and yet many people continue to tell me that I’m imagining things, or that there is a problem with my equipment, or whatever other outlandish excuse they can come up with. That’s the great thing about being able to do screen captures: I can now provided visual evidence! Now who’s crazy, guys?

 
Posted: Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 6:25 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Tartan slaps on the woad

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: DVD Times

In a move that certainly surprised me and, I suspect, will have surprised a lot of others as well, UK independent DVD studio Tartan Video has announced support for Blu-ray, and will be debuting high definition editions of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (also due out in the US from Sony a month later) and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal on August 27th, with Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy to follow on September 24th. Expect AVC encodes, DTS-HD Master Audio and, it would seem, some but not all of the extras from the standard definition variants. The RRP for each, by the way, is a rather bloated £29.99, seemingly because Tartan intends to package the standard definition version on a separate disc in the same case.

I hate to say it, but the pessimist in me suspects that this may be the beginning of the end for HD DVD. This time last year, I never in a million years dreamed that any of the independents would back Sony’s format, but with this, and the announcement of Starz/Anchor Bay’s decision to launch a Blu-ray line via MGM, suggests that one of HD DVD’s key advantages - cheaper manufacturing and licensing costs - really isn’t enough to entice the little guys. All I can say is that Sony must be offering some major incentives to these smaller studios (one commenter suggests that they may be supplying free authoring services) to get them on the bandwagon. I’d still like to think that HD DVD can get its act together and reclaim some of the momentum that it lost in its disastrous decision to basically sit back and do nothing at the beginning of the year, but I’m beginning to have serious doubts… especially as, for me, the news of support by Tartan and Anchor Bay is worth a thousand 20th Century Foxes.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 2:06 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Blurry Blu-ray

Blu-ray

My copy of the French Blu-ray release of Paprika arrived today from FNAC. Time didn’t permit me to actually sit down and watch the whole thing, but I have a few preliminary observations to make.

First of all, this disc features no less than nine audio tracks (Japanese PCM, and Japanese, French, English, German, Czech, Italian, Spanish and Polish Dolby Digital) and 24 subtitle tracks. This, combined with the fact that the disc is multi-region and displays an FBI logo if your player’s default language is set to English, strongly suggests that Sony is planning to release the same disc throughout much of the world.

Second, for the first full-length 2D animated HD title I’ve picked up, the transfer is decidedly underwhelming. It’s an MPEG2 encode, and, while compression problems don’t appear to be too apparent based on my viewing of the opening 15 minutes, the image looks rather soft and filtered, lacking the crispness that I would have hoped for from an animated film produced entirely in the digital domain. Like many of the Studio Ghibli releases, it’s also windowboxed, needlessly throwing away several lines of resolution. I’m not sure why this practice seems to be so widespread with anime films, but it’s a very annoying one and I wish the companies wouldn’t do it.

As for the film - let’s just say it hasn’t grabbed me yet. I’m going to sit down with it at some point this weekend and give it my full concentration, but my initial impressions suggest that my various esteemed commenters were right.

Oh yeah, and Sony has announced a few new Blu-ray titles for release in the US on September 25th, including Black Book and the extended cut of Underworld. I’ve already got the German HD DVD release of Underworld, due out on September 3rd, pre-ordered, and that will remain the case, since the early bird catches the worm, but I’m all over Black Book, which, in addition to being an extremely engaging film, looked a little underwhelming in its UK DVD release from Tartan.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 10:13 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Fox, king of lies

Web

Guess it’s full steam ahead for Phase Hydra.

It may have escaped your notice, but a brand new web site geared around marketing Blu-ray, entitled Hollywood In Hi-Def, was recently launched. The idea, presumably, is similar to the HD DVD Promotion Group’s The Look and Sound of Perfect, with the only differences being a URL that’s easier to remember, and the fact that Hollwood In Hi-Def doesn’t make its Blu-ray bias explicit. It’s fairly obvious (the next-to-zero mention of HD DVD and the blue colour scheme are dead giveaways), but it’s underhand tactics like these that cause me to view the Blu-ray camp with a great deal of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong: I know that both sides are, at the end of the day, out to make money by any means necessary, but I always feel that there’s something slightly more honest about the way the HD DVD camp conducts itself.

Nowhere is the Blu-ray Disc Association’s willingness to lie, in spite of how blatantly transparent their porkies are, than in a recent article regarding the lack of titles from 20th Century Fox so far this year. Fox, as you may or may not be aware, haven’t released a single Blu-ray disc since Night at the Museum on April 24th. Recently, however, the forums became abuzz with the news that several new titles had been announced for release in various European countries, including France and Germany. Not so, according to Fox themselves:

There have been reports of Fox releasing on Blu-ray internationally while still on hold in the U.S.

A Fox executive told us and some late-night commenters at High-Def Digest that it isn’t true. Fox has made no Blu-ray announcements in Europe, Asia or the U.S. since its last Blu-ray title, “Night at the Museum,” on April 24.

Quiet!

Oh really?

Is that so?

Wait a minute…

Do Fox seriously think their US customers are so isolated from the rest of the world that they will somehow fail to notice the various sites not only listing the various titles announced for release on the other side of the Atlantic, but also their cover art, technical specs and bonus content? That would appear to be the case, as a comment posted to the article in question, featuring links to announcements for various German releases, was mysteriously deleted as I was typing this entry. Based on the evidence, I’d have to say that Fox really do think we’re as stupid as they are.

Update, July 12th, 2007 08:31 PM: Looks like the links were not deleted after all. By default, the site only displays the four most recent comments.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 8:07 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Web
 

Sacré bleu! Mr. Bean goes HD!

HD DVD

Source: DVD Times

News that Mr. Bean’s Holiday was to get an HD DVD release in Australia on August 15th has essentially been common knowledge for some time now, and it should come as no surprise that a UK release date was announced today. Arriving five days later than its counterpart down under, on August 20th, this release, which will presumably be identical to the Australian version, will feature the usual razzmatazz (1080p VC-1 transfer, Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio in a variety of languages, and the same extras as the standard definition release). I missed seeing this at the cinema, and, while I have my suspicions as to the film’s quality (based in part on the largely negative reviews), I’ll no doubt be picking up a copy of this. Now if only Universal would release the original Bean in HD as well.

 
Posted: Monday, July 09, 2007 at 9:04 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

But it’s just cartoons, innit?

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Generally speaking, Japanese animation doesn’t do a whole lot for me, unless it’s by Hayao Miyazaki, and even then I tend to be a bit picky. Back when I was doing my MLitt, however, we had a lecture on anime, during which we were shown Tokyo Godfathers, which, in addition to having an incredibly witty and involving narrative, boasted the most outrageous posing and facial expressions I’ve ever seen outside of Warner Brothers and Spumco - a far cry from the usual static faces with only the mouths opening and closing favoured by anime directors. The director of this film was Satoshi Kon, whose greatest claim to fame appears to be Perfect Blue, described by some as the closest thing in existence to an anime giallo.

Blu-ray

Anyway, his latest film, Paprika, was recently released on Blu-ray in certain territories, including Japan and France. Judging by the trailers and stills that I’ve seen, its animation eschews the flamboyance of Tokyo Godfathers in favour of the more static, conservative look usually associated with anime, but, given the complete and utter dearth of 2D animation on either of the HD formats (barring the three Looney Tunes cartoons included on The Adventures of Robin Hood HD DVD), I’m willing to take what I can get, and in any event I’m hoping that Paprika demonstrates the same quality of storytelling seen in Tokyo Godfathers. Anyway, I’ve ordered a copy of the French release, which DVDRAMA tells me is region-free and includes English subtitles.

HD DVD

Speaking of 2D high definition animation in France, according to FilmTalk, Sylvain Chomet’s Les Triplettes de Belleville (or Belleville Rendez-vous, or The Triplets of Belleville, depending on where you are in the world) is to get an HD DVD release (from Warner, presumably, as they released the standard definition version) on October 31st 2007. Given that it is almost completely dialogue-free, English subtitles (or lack thereof) should not be an issue. Needless to say, I’ll definitely be picking this one up too.

 
Posted: Monday, July 09, 2007 at 8:24 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Gialli | HD DVD
 

Welcome back to the land of the living

Well, my holiday is over, and this morning it was back to work for me. That said, now is probably as good a time as any to tell you that I won’t be there for much longer. I’ve been offered a part-time job as a library assistant at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, working 9-to-5 on Wednesdays and Saturdays - ideal for when I get started on my PhD. I sent my letter of resignation to head office this morning, telling them that I plan to work until next Friday (the 20th), and my intention is to make this known to the rest of the team tomorrow. I’m not quite sure how they’re going to react - productivity has increased substantially since I’ve been around to shoulder some of the workload, so I would imagine my contributions will be missed - but I don’t foresee there being any problems with my leaving. Either way, in less than a fortnight, I’ll be gone, and, while I certainly don’t harbour any ill feeling towards my co-workers, and indeed have probably learned a lot from the experience, I can’t say I’ll be too sorry to go. The job, when all said and done, is pretty monotonous, and, given the choice of processing forms for 37 and a half hours a week or working in a library 14 hours a week and spending the rest of my time studying gialli, well, I know what I’d rather by doing.

Italian Horror Film Directors

Speaking of gialli, I picked up a book via Amazon’s Marketplace called Italian Horror Film Directors, written by European Trash Cinema contributor Louis Paul. I became aware of this title via Keith Brown’s excellent blog Giallo Fever, and, while his write-up suggests that this is a rather flawed book, there are so few publications dealing with gialli and Italian genre cinema in general that I came to the conclusion that it would be wise to line my bookshelf with this rather weighty hardback. If nothing else, it’s another entry to add to my PhD’s bibliography, and I’m sure it’ll be an enjoyable enough read even if it’s not on the same level as, say, Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds or La Dolce Morte.

 
Posted: Monday, July 09, 2007 at 6:46 PM
Categories: Books | Cinema | General | Gialli | PhD
 

DVD debacle

DVD DVD

Arrivederci Amore, Ciao and my review copy of The Secret of NIMH both arrived this morning. A few quick words on Arrivederci Amore, Ciao before we proceed: I only got the chance to glance at it briefly, but it doesn’t look to be a very good transfer at all. It’s fuzzy, washed out and video-like, and it’s also not progressively flagged. It’ll do until a better English-friendly presentation comes along, but that’s about the kindest thing I can say about it. I highly doubt that the English-unfriendly French release looks this weak.

Anyway, The Secret of NIMH fares somewhat better. Despite the patent lack of serious bonus features in what was supposed to be the 25th anniversary release of this film (after a decent audio commentary and a cursory 15-minute featurette, the only other extras contained in the 2-disc set are crummy kiddie games. Even the accompanying booklet looks more like the sort of menus many restaurants do for pre-schoolers, with a crossword, mazes and join the dots puzzle. Still, the film is ultimately what counts, and I’m happy to say that the transfer improves quite noticeably on the old non-anamorphic UK release. It doesn’t look dazzling, but MGM’s rather conservative restoration (if indeed one was done at all) is still preferable to the overly processed look of Disney titles like Bambi and Peter Pan. Gary Goldman, one of the film’s producers and directing animators, supervised the colour timing for this release, and it shows, because it avoids the garish “pumping” that goes on so often with animated DVD releases these days. The colours look smooth and natural, and will apparently be the first time American viewers will get to experience the film on a home video format in anything approaching its intended timings - previous releases were apparently mangled by incompetent technicians who used Mrs. Brisby’s fur colour as a basis to regrade each scene, without realising that her fur intentionally changed colour depending on the lighting conditions!

But could someone in the know please fill me in on the film’s intended aspect ratio? The DVD includes both 1.33:1 fullscreen and 1.85:1 widescreen versions, and I can’t help thinking that the fullscreen version looks more “right”:

The Secret of NIMH

The Secret of NIMH

Below, you can see that a lot of the artwork created for the backgrounds shown during the closing credits is being lost, and the composition to me strongly suggests an intended ratio of 1.33:1:

The Secret of NIMH

The Secret of NIMH

As you can see, the widescreen edition is a fairly straightforward case of cropping the top and bottom of the frame, with a small amount of picture being gained at either side. Now, obviously, as a film released in 1982, it would have to have been projected theatrically in a widescreen ratio - more than likely 1.85:1 for American cinemas, although, as with many Disney titles from the same period, the Internet Movie Database lists an intended ratio of 1.66:1. On their commentary, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman make no mention of which is their preferred presentation, although it may be that they have expressed their opinions in this matter elsewhere. Does anyone know?

In any event, you can expect a full review at DVD Times in the not too distant future, although I would like to reread the novel on which the film was based, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, before I get started.

 
Posted: Friday, July 06, 2007 at 9:34 PM
Categories: Animation | Books | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

When the Starz go Blu

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

Hot on the heels of the news that Starz Home Entertainment (formerly Anchor Bay) had tossed its hat into the high definition ring with the announcement that the first season of Masters of Horror would be coming to Blu-ray, the company has now provided specs for this release (a set of four BD50s, 1080p transfers, PCM 5.1 audio, and “comparable extras” to the standard definition counterparts), as well as the news that Halloween, plus entries in the Evil Dead and George A. Romero’s original zombie trilogy will be showing up in October (the article states that we’ll be seeing “three to four” titles, so exactly what will be released seems to still be up in the air).

I have to say I think it’s really good that Starz are debuting with some of their big guns. I’m not sure how long it’ll be before we see some gialli in high definition (I’m hoping for those long-promised special editions of Tenebre and Phenomena), but things do finally seem to be on the move for fans of the more obscure side of cinema.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2007 at 11:03 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV
 

The return of Captain Whiggles

I’m back, and I’m a whole day older. I have now walked this blighted earth for 24 wholes years and a day (give or take a couple of hours), although, believe it or not, I don’t feel a whole lot different. Actually, since I turned 18 and could legally do pretty much anything I might want to do, my actual age has ceased to be much of a concern for me, to the extent that, when people ask me how old I am, I often actually have to stop and think about it.

Anyway, I had a pretty good day, albeit with a couple of minor monkey-wrenches thrown in. I had a bunch of parcels waiting for me when I got up yesterday morning:

Birthday presents 1

The big box at the back is, as you can probably gather, the Lego Café Corner set I ordered a couple of weeks back. I finally finished putting it together this morning, and, while I can’t exactly claim it to have been a challenge, it took me a decent enough amount of time, and the level of detail present in the finished building is commendably higher than what you get in most of the sets aimed at a younger audience. Now, if only Lego would do something featuring a similar level of detail for a castle or a pirate ship…

DVD

In front of the Lego box, from left to right, we have: The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season and The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, Black Snake Moan on HD DVD, and Crank on Blu-ray. And yes, that hideous Homer head for The Simpsons’ sixth season really is as bad as everyone says. The plastic outer “cover” was dented out of shape when it arrived (unavoidable, given its flimsy construction, and I don’t hold DVD Pacific, the US Postal Service, Royal Mail or anyone else responsible for this - the blame lies solely with 20th Century Fox), and the tray housing the four discs that resides inside the cover is a pain, filled with bits of paper (advertisements, episode booklet) that fall out as soon as you open it. It’s very frustrating that the standard cardboard box was never released to buy in the US, as it was elsewhere, because ordering the replacement is, for someone without a North American postal address, a bit of a challenge. By the way, I’ve taken a look at some of the episodes from both Seasons 6 and 7, and, while there are still some visible DVNR artefacts, they are nothing like as bad as the ones affecting the PAL version.

Blu-ray

Me and Lyris also watched Crank last night. First, the bad news: the film looks like ass. It was shot in 1080p, so ideally this should have been a pixel-to-pixel reproduction of the source materials (barring compression, of course). Unfortunately, someone took it upon themselves to add a tonne of edge enhancement, making the picture look harsh and ugly. Strangely enough, the edge enhancement is is inconsistent, with some scenes (basically those in which the protagonist doesn’t appear) being less affected, and the two of us both came to the conclusion that the filmmakers intentionally decide to over-sharpen the image as a stylistic choice, presumably to make it appear “harsh” and “raw”. Whoever is to blame, though, they should be severely chastised for their decision.

Luckily, it’s an enjoyable film. I hesitate to call it “good”, because, to be honest, it was pretty much a complete load of garbage, but it continually kept us entertained, and was, on several occasions, laugh out loud hilarious. Jason Statham’s hard man shtick gets a little old after a while (I’m still not sure why they got a Brit to play this part), but the characters surrounding him help keep him in check, and Amy Smart plays the greatest blonde ditz I’ve seen in a film since Anna Faris in Lost in Translation: “Don’t talk to him like that! My boyfriend kills people!” Oddly enough, the most similar film I can think of to this is not Speed, as most people seem to suggest, but Run Lola Run. Obviously, it’s less high-brow, but it has the same sort of energy and the same basic plot - if “person runs around the city for 90 minutes” counts as a plot.

Oh, and Black Snake Moan has a really impressive transfer, at least judging by the brief glance I had at the first couple of scenes. Paramount has really come a long way in the last few months.

Birthday presents 2

Anyway, I also went to Braehead Shopping Centre for lunch and shopping. Luckily, I didn’t see any shifty types looking to ram burning vehicles into buildings (Braehead is just down the road from Glasgow Airport), so I was able to make my purchases in peace. I actually ended up buying a hell of a lot more than I intended, not least an Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on. You may remember that I bought one earlier this year and ended up selling it on to a friend, because it didn’t meet my needs. Luckily, the situation has now changed. For one thing, Lyris now has an Xbox 360, so we both decided that this would be the perfect moment to dispose of our large, clunky Toshiba HD-A1 player and replace it was something faster and less space-hungry. In addition, HD decryption software has progressed considerably in the last six months, which makes it much easier now to rip discs to my hard drive and take screen captures for review purposes (the add-on connects to either the Xbox 360 or a PC via USB, so it only takes a couple of seconds to plug it into the required device).

I also picked up two HD DVDs and one Blu-ray disc, all of them blind buys: La Haine, Syriana and Layer Cake. I know next to nothing about any of them, but it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, the goons at HMV not only forgot to take the security tabs out of La Haine and Layer Cake, meaning I couldn’t actually open them to get the discs out (most store-bought UK DVD and high definition cases feature a plastic tab which seals it shut and can only be removed using a special machine in the store), the case for La Haine was also quite badly smashed (okay, so it’s partially my fault for not noticing until I got home). Luckily, my dad was able to run me back in to get the tabs removed and the case for La Haine replaced.

I’m not done yet, though! I also bought the soundtracks to Serenity and Cars, and picked up the games Empire Earth II and Quake 4 in a “2 for £15” deal at GAME.

So yeah, all in all a good day was had, although my wallet is no longer speaking to me.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2007 at 3:47 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Games | General | HD DVD | Music | Technology
 

Cover designers take note

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Bad DVD (and VHS, and HD DVD, and Blu-ray, and…) cover art tends to be the exception rather than the norm, so I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to make a post dedicated to a single example of this dubious trend, but I’ve come across a cover so hideous that I felt the need to make an exception to the rule. I’m talking about Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH, recently re-released as a 2-disc “Family Fun Edition” (god, how I hate that term) through 20th Century Fox, who have taken over the home video distribution of most MGM/UA titles. The cover art used for the old non-anamorphic UK release wasn’t exactly out of this world, but at least it was faithful to the tone of the film contained inside the case. By contrast, the open matte US DVD from 1998 received an eye-searingly bad design, and it is this same odious piece of artwork that has made it on to the latest release.

DVD

Take a look at the image opposite. The Secret of NIMH was, on its release in 1982, one of the darkest animated features ever released, along with Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings and Martin Rosen’s Watership Down. It may have come from former Disney animator Don Bluth, and it may have featured talking animals and moments of slapstick humour, but it was an altogether bleaker and more mature animated feature than those raised on Snow White and Cinderella would have been used to. The DVD cover, by contrast, gives the impression that the film is intended for pre-schoolers, with bright colours, big smiles and an abundance of airbrushing. The crow, black in the film, has even been painted blue, presumably because black is a verboten hue in la-la land.

This may all seem trivial, but I really think distributors should take more care to market their output appropriately. Warner did exactly the same thing with Watership Down, going for bright colours and cute bunnies for their cover art, despite the fact that the film features said cut bunnies having their gizzards ripped out in graphic detail. Not wanting to sound like a bleeding-heart “think of the children” crusader, but isn’t there something a bit morally suspect about effectively wrapping a title that is known to have traumatised many young children in a pink ribbon and selling it as if it was babysitting fare along the same lines as the Disney cheapquels? Even this film’s co-producer, Gary Goldman, has got involved in the debate, slating the cover art and decrying the fact that he and Bluth were not consulted by Fox when it came to marketing.

I’ve got a review copy on its way to me from DVD Times, courtesy of our good friends at DVD Pacific, and I’m genuinely curious to see this most unusual film again. I’m just glad I’ve seen it before, because I wouldn’t have given it a second look based on that sickening cover art.

By the way, you should definitely read the article featuring the aforementioned Gary Goldman quotes. It provides a very interesting retrospective on a film that clearly has significantly more of a following than I’d previously realised.

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 6:43 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD
 

Visit my thrift store!

Web

Roll up, roll up for the most exciting auction you’ll see all day! A whole host of high quality DVDs (and some not so high quality) are waiting on eBay for your perusal. Today’s batch is comprised of:

I’ve got a bunch more titles to put online, and I’ll probably do so at the same time tomorrow night. Happy bidding!

 
Posted: Monday, July 02, 2007 at 7:43 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Web
 

Mother of Tears: an illicit glimpse

Film

Source: Dark Discussion

Dark Discussion member Yellowfire was at the Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors convention in Secaucus, New Jersey on July 1st, where the same 20-minute preview of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival was being shown. He has made available a few hand-held photographs of the footage shown and even a couple of audio clips, and they won’t be left online for long, so get ‘em while they’re hot! While it’s too much to hope that the entire preview will ever be made available online, I would like to hope that the launch of the official Italian Argento web site in five days’ time will herald some high quality clips, or at the very least a non-camcorded copy of the trailer.

Mother of Tears

Returning to the shots themselves, it’s obviously difficult to get much of a flavour for the film’s look given that they are fairly small and blurry. I do, however, note with some degree of glee that some of the old Inferno look seems to have returned, judging by the blue tinting in the last few shots. Likewise, the music sounds excellent from the sample clips provided, very similar to that of the trailer.

In even better news, here’s what someone else who was in attendance had to say about the preview:

I had the chance to see about twenty minutes of this film last weekend. All I can say is that it’s vintage Argento. Highly atmospheric, bloody as hell, surreal, disturbing and gorgeously shot.

[…]

Frankly, eveything I saw of it was amazing. This is the Argento we haven’t seen in almost twenty years back at the top of his game, and MOTHER OF TEARS looks to be a fine capper to the Three Mothers trilogy.

Naturally, I’ll be waiting to see the final film before making any definite opinions, and I sincerely hope that I don’t have too long to wait, but, based on this feedback and these tantalising glimpses, I’m very, very excited.

 
Posted: Monday, July 02, 2007 at 3:21 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

High definition charity

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

As part of a move to get more independent content on to HD DVD, Microsoft and Amazon have joined forces to subsidise the production of independent titles. Entitled “The 1000 HD DVD Indies Project”, due to the number of titles to eventually be made available, this venture will see Microsoft offering their authoring services for free to independent filmmakers who make the grade, while Amazon will then package the discs and sell them exclusively on their web site. The idea, it would appear, is that the discs will be made to order, eliminating much of the overhead associated with bulk production, and with the proceeds going straight back to the filmmakers.

There’s no word yet on any of the titles that we can expect to see through this scheme, but it’s interesting news for sure, and goes some way towards showing how serious Microsoft is about supporting the HD DVD format.

 
Posted: Monday, July 02, 2007 at 3:08 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Web
 

The double-dipping element

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

The upcoming Blu-ray re-release of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, due out on July 17th, will, it would seem, be struck from a completely new master. According to a post by Sony Pictures insider “Paidgeek”, we can expect to see “a marked improvement over any previous release” - good news for sure, given that I was slightly suspicious that we would simply get a new encode sourced from the same master, with added DVNR, edge enhancement or filtering.

Blu-ray

I can’t say that this is my favourite Luc Besson film - I consider Léon to be his masterpiece - but I do find it quite enjoyable if I switch my brain into second gear and plug my ears whenever Chris Tucker appears on screen, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to replace my standard definition Superbit copy. I held off on last year’s lacklustre Blu-ray release because I knew that an improved edition was on the way, so I’ve now ordered myself a copy from DVD Pacific. For those who got burned on the earlier release, Sony have set up a replacement programme, although presumably it will only be open to North American customers. The new disc, by the way, is very much intended as a replacement in the most literal sense of the world, featuring the same cover art and with the original version already having been discontinued. Sony, it would seem, would prefer to sneak this improved version out under the radar rather than making a bit song and dance about how they have, fittingly, become the first high definition studio to play the double-dipping game.

 
Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2007 at 9:07 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Spooks and spectres in high definition

HD DVD HD DVD

Source: AV Science Forum

The cover art for the upcoming German HD DVD releases of Silent Hill, Underworld: Extended Cut, 12 Monkeys and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has been unveiled… and I don’t know about you, but personally I think that this Silent Hill artwork is streets ahead of what was used for the American Blu-ray and DVD releases. Of course, better cover art is not, for me, an adequate reason for double-dipping, but I’ve pre-ordered a copy of it (and Underworld) all the same, given that I’m hoping for a superior encode to the Blu-ray release, which crammed an MPEG2 copy of the film on to a single-layer 25 GB disc. The new release date, by the way, is September 3rd, a few days later than the originally announced August 31st.

Update, July 1st, 2007 04:23 PM: As Jayson pointed out in the comments selection, this release of Underworld is to be the extended cut.

 
Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2007 at 3:53 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 
 

 
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